There’s little doubt that the nation needs more young farmers, because statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show the average American farmer is 58 years old. Hope lies in farm incubators that equip young agrarians with the technical skills and the business savvy needed to compete in the fierce, burgeoning market for locally grown produce.
At Kinsman Farm (KinsmanFarm.net), in Cleveland, the Ohio State University Extension gives would-be farmers quarter-acre starter plots and helps them develop business plans. Financial support is available, too. “The city of Cleveland recently received private funds to expand its Gardening for Greenbacks Program,” advises spokesperson Marie Barni. “Our urban farmers can now receive a $5,000 grant to help start their farming microenterprise.”
Some city planners have voiced considerable skepticism about whether urban farms are an effective tool for creating jobs and rebuilding economies like Cleveland’s, but advocates point to other farm incubators in North Carolina, Oregon and Rhode Island, as well as in Kansas City, Kansas, Holyoke, Massachusetts, St. Louis, Missouri, and Seattle, Washington.
In Chicago, students at the role model Windy City Harvest, coordinated by the Chicago Botanic Garden and the Richard J. Daley City College (ChicagoBotanic.org/ windycityharvest), engage in six months of hands-on horticulture training, and then a three-month paid internship with a farm or food justice organization.